Back to the Future

Hot youth reunite in grim dystopia for part two of ‘Divergent’ trilogy

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Insurgent

Starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Kate Winslet & Theo James

Directed by Robert Schwentke

PG-13

 

What’s in the box?

That’s the question that drives the plot of the second movie based on author Veronica Roth’s young-adult Divergent trilogy about love, loyalty, politics and identity in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic Chicago.

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Shailene Woodley, Theo James & Ansel Elgort

Shalene Woodley returns as Tris, a “Divergent” who doesn’t fit into any of the dystopian society’s other rigidly prescribed factions based on personality and aptitude: Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (peacefulness), Candor (honesty), Dauntless (bravery) and Erudite (intelligence). As the movie opens, the subdivided system has fallen apart, insurrection has swept across the land, and the ruthless Erudite overlord (Kate Winslet) blames it all on rebel Divergents.

Peace, we’re told, can only be obtained by opening a rune-covered, boxed-up do-dad containing a secret message “from the founders” of the long-ago, walled-in society that that has ultimately disintegrated into chaos and ruin. And the only person who can open the box—through a series of grueling, simulated tests, or “sims,” that are like wiring into a life-or-death computer game—is a Divergent.

Winslet’s icy CEO/empress orders her minions to round up Divergents until she finds one who can pass—survive—all five sims, each based on one of the factions. What’s in the box, that drives her to coldly sacrifice others to obtain it? The search is futile…until they find Tris, the purest, most “divergent” of all the Divergents.

Some viewers have faulted the Divergent series as being too derivative of The Hunger Games, which—fair enough—also featured great-looking, well-coiffed, repressed young people in a grim future world, fighting each other, held against their will and railing against an unjust, repressive, totalitarian regime. But every franchise of anything has its fans, and Roth’s trio of novels—like The Hunger Games—will also be stretched into four films before it finally wraps up in 2017.

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Octavia Spencer

Insurgent, in addition to Woodley, finds several other young actors returning to their roles, including hunks Theo James, Ansel Elgort and the series’ true secret weapon, Miles Teller, who provides much-needed levity—and what little real surprise there is to be found in the thin storyline. Octavia Spencer and Naomi Watts are newly aboard, and their relatively seasoned maturity frequently gives them the air of grownups navigating a bustling high school hallway.

The plot is convoluted and confusing, moving at a gloopy glacial pace punctuated by spasms and spurts of running, chasing, shooting and scuffling. The special effects, when Tris is hooked up to the sims contraption, are bombastic, jarring blowouts that pummel, rather than dazzle, the senses. Some of the large interior scenes seem designed, propped, costumed and photographed less like pieces of a dystopian drama and more like a Broadway musical—I halfway expected someone to break into a song called “Beyond the Wall” or “United We Diverge.”

What’s in the box? Oh, that: The setup for two more movies!

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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